An Obligation for Declaration: A Persuasive Essay

Tensions are primed. Fissures are opening among social lines, be they racial, economic, political, etc. The security of our Democracy is quite literally at stake, and there is a common thread underpinning all of it: The United States Government has failed in its civic duties as described in our founding documents – The Declaration of Independence and The Constitution of the United States of America – and as a result, We the People, not only have the ability but an obligation to demand accountability and set right the situation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident…

Anyone who was raised in the American education system should know these words; words that initiated a war for freedom which, against all odds, would conclude in the formation of a new nation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

The Declaration of Independence, 1776

The second of the two most important documents involved in the birth of our nation, this establishes the right to revolution as a response to a government failing to protect basic human rights given to all citizens by their Creator. It specifically states that the power of a government is derived from the consent of the governed and such governments are created by its citizens to protect those rights. In fact, this concept was so important to the founding members of our Union that, thirteen years later, they decided to reaffirm this belief in this nation’s most important founding document, The Constitution of the United States of America.

We, the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

-The Constitution of the United States of America, 1789

In fact, peace and justice were the first items on the menu in the pursuit of “a more perfect Union.” Peace and justice. These documents represent the sacred agreement between the State and its citizens. And thus far, our government has failed to uphold their end of this agreement.

On August 11th, 2017, Neo-Nazi, white-supremacy, and other hate groups descended on Charlottesville, VA. They were attempting to “peacefully protest” the removal of a Confederate statue. Of course, in this case, “peaceful” means chants of “Blood and Soil” and “Jews will not replace us” while armed with torches and clubs, and giving the Nazi salute. The following day, demonstrations continued, this time armed with assault weapons, militia gear, and chants of “White Power”.

Let this be clear: this was not a peaceful assembly. This was not a protected assembly. This was a Nazi rally. This was a KKK rally. Even before chemical deterrents started being used, before punches started being thrown, this assembly was violent and a threat to the peace. Violence is defined as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation”. Given the violence inherent to these groups, the government has a sworn and sacred duty to intervene in these types of demonstrations. And yet, they were given legal permits to assemble under the First Amendment. Yet, these groups do not enjoy those protections.

On multiple occasions, the Supreme Court has ruled that threats of violence are not protected by the First Amendment. In 1942, the Court ruled that fighting words – words designed or likely to elicit a violent response – were not protected by the first amendment. And hateful rhetoric is inherently likely to result in a violent response because it is the natural defensive response. Like a cornered animal, targeted people will resort to fighting to protect themselves and their loved ones.

In the light of this reality, how can we be so blind to our government supporting and allowing this threat to the peace and its people? Only by choice does this happen: the choice to remain silent and blind while a government acting in our name enables and supports this hateful rhetoric.

In Charlottesville, the organizers of the hateful “Unite the Right” rally were granted a permit to organize, and after that permit was stopped by an injunction, they were defended by the ACLU on the basis of their right to free speech. A right they do not enjoy. Not because they are statistically likely to encourage physical violence, but because their inherently violent message strips this right from them.

Violence is abhorrent and should be condemned. But when all other voices have been silenced by a system that has proven to mean failure for a group of people in need of help, silenced by a system that operates against the principles of the society it operates therein, then violence becomes the only voice of the oppressed. A voice calling for help through the Darkness. And we must answer that voice.

We cannot choose to sit silent and blind any longer, because “evil triumphs when good men do nothing.” And while many Americans know the values for which this country was formed, it’s important to realize that governments are not immutable, and the United States government is no exception. Democracy can give way to authoritarianism. Capitalism can give rise to oligarchy. Unless We, the People, choose to stop it.

And while principles endeared by a community can change and evolve, that which does not are the inalienable rights afforded to every person by their Creator: Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

Therefore

When in the course of human events it becomes necessary for a people to alter their government, a decent respect to the opinions of humankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to such change.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal without regard to their race, gender, or identity, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among them are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, and that any credible threat to one’s safety poses a real and present danger to society by infringing these rights therein. To secure these rights governments are instituted among people deriving their just powers from the implicit consent of the governed and whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government, laying its foundation on such principles, organizing its powers in such form as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient reasons, but when a long train of abuses pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute despotism and systemic oppression, it is their Duty, it is their Right, to cast off such oppressors and establish new guards for their future security.

This is the situation we once again find ourselves in. Our government has proven through actions that it no longer espouses the values and ideals for which it once stood, and it no longer seeks to serve the People.

We cannot be complacent, for complacency is complicity. These grievances demand change, and change does not come from inaction, but rather active opposition.

Opposition need not be violent; revolution need not be bloody. Change can be enacted through a revolution of ideas, as much as force. But regardless of the mechanism, change must come.

We, the People, have a right to demand a redress of grievances, and if our government fails in this, we have a duty to redress the government.

Freedom of Speech or Freedom from Censorship?

So, I’m writing this on Saturday night, at 12:40 AM and something terrible happened today: A rally turned violent in Charlottesville.

Now, I’m not going to talk about what specifically happened. I’m not going to talk about how the “Unite the Right” rally was a racist, white-supremacist, Nazi event (but it totally was). Today, I want to talk about something I’ve heard misinterpreted a lot in my life, and especially today.

So, let’s talk about the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America. Most people know this as the “Freedom of Speech” amendment. But it’s more than just that. So let’s break it down, talk about what it really means, and gain a real understanding of what it does – and more importantly, doesn’t – protect.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The first amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America

Now, let’s skip the first part, because “Freedom of Religion” is another article entirely. Instead, let’s start by focusing on the second part which, contrary to what is proving to be popular belief, does not mean you can say whatever you want. This simply states the government of the United States can not dictate or censor the content of any individuals speech both spoken (freedom of speech) or published (freedom of the press) at its most basic level. This clause essentially protects the public from government sanctioned propaganda (i.e. “The Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda”) or State sanctioned news as a method of keeping the public submissive (i.e. “The Korean Central News Agency”)  It, however, does not protect the individual from the consequences, repercussions, and ramifications of said speech.

On a deeper level, however, not all speech is protected from Government censorship, of which are obscenity, the advocacy of illegal action, and fighting words. ‘Fighting Words’ is defined by the courts as “Words which would likely make the person whom they are addressed commit an act of violence,” and was determined to not be protected by the first amendment (Chaplinsky v New Hampshire, 315 U.S. 568). But what constitutes violence? Well, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines violence as “the intentional use of physical force or power, threatened or actual, against oneself, another person, or against a group or community, which either results in or has a high likelihood of resulting in injury, death, psychological harm, maldevelopment, or deprivation.”

But all of this not withstanding, the bottom line is that the second clause of the first amendment only protects an individuals expression from being silenced by the state. It does not protect that individual from the consequences and ramifications they may incur as a direct result of another individual’s response to said speech. Should a society or community at large determine speech to be reprehensible and hateful, they are in their right to exert the expression of outrage and displeasure toward the hateful individual, within the law, of course. (If you punch a racist for using the n-word, you’re not infringing their free speech, but you are committing assault and battery.)

The second important part of this amendment is the right to peaceable assembly. However, peaceable is the key word. The Government can stop assembly if the assembly threatens the peace.

All this given, the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville was an egregious example of fighting words and violent assembly. White nationalists were heard chanting “Jews will not replace us”. A group of Ku Klux Klan members was filmed telling a black woman to “Go back to Africa” and using racial slurs.

And worst of all, when counter-protesters took to the streets to peaceably march and voice their distaste at this event, they were intentionally struck by a moving vehicle, killing 1 and injuring 19 others.

Freedom of speech does not mean what you think it means. It doesn’t mean you can say whatever you want and I can’t do anything about it. It means you can say whatever you want and the government can not silence you. I, however, can discredit you and your name publicly for being an asshole, and I can ostracize you from my peaceful community. I’m allowed that right and expression as long as my statements are true and based on fact and reason.

And finally, I’d like to exercise my right to petition for a redress of grievances afforded me by the fourth clause of the first amendment. Because I have some grievances. In America these days, the Government has overtly failed in its duty to protect its citizens and ensure the peace. We had honest to god white nationalists and Nazis walking around promoting violence and fighting words in Charlottesville today, and it’s not the only time. That threatens the peace inherently. And the police, government law enforcement, did nothing to curtail the violent behavior. To any and all members of our Government, I’d like to say this: You have a duty to protect those people that put you in office. And you have thus far shirked that duty; An action that has resulted in the death of one and injury of no less than nineteen Americans today alone.

Therefore, I demand a redress of these grievances.

Let’s Talk: Racism

And once again, dear reader, we find ourselves in the aftermath of a tragic event that creates more offense and bigotry than positive social change. And once again, I find myself having to write about something that should, in my opinion, be rather cut-and-dry.

But, before we get into it here, can we please take a moment to reflect and ask ourselves, “When is this nonsense going to stop?” In the span of the last 60 days, we’ve seen a hate crime and act of terror against the LGBT community in which 103 were injured and 49 were killed. We’ve seen not one, but two deaths of black men at the hands of members of law enforcement, both cases being tantamount to murder. We’ve seen 11 police officers injured, 5 killed by sniper fire in an act of revenge. And yet, America seems too content to ignore the facts: that undercurrents of racism and homophobia permeate society to this day, resulting in horrific acts of violence  being perpetrated out of feelings of fear and ignorance, and being allowed to happen due to outrageously ineffectual and laughably loose gun control laws.

But I don’t want to focus on gun control or homophobia today. No, today, I need to talk about the problem of institutional racism in our modern society. Specifically, #BlackLivesMatter vs. #AllLivesMatter.

And honestly, dear reader, I didn’t think this was an article I’d have to write. I assumed that most Americans would understand the meaning behind the Black Lives Matter movement. And yet, I’ve been noticing a disturbing trend of white Americans responding to “Black lives matter!” with the phrase “Well, all lives matter.” Which means that many people, if not most, are indeed missing the point. To rebut with “All lives matter” is minimizing, offensive, and the argumentative equivalent of a government coverup. And if you honestly can’t see that, then we need to dig deeper.

Black Lives Matter is a socio-political movement that was born out of the issue of systemic police brutality toward the black community. The Black Lives Matter movement was founded in the summer of 2013 after the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who fatally shot Trayvon Martin in Florida. Founded by community organizers Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, Black Lives Matter, or BLM,  claims inspiration from such social activist movements as the African-American Civil Rights Movement, the LGBTQ Social Movement, and the Black Power movement, among others.

In the beginning, BLM operated mostly digitally, sticking to a system of hashtag activism. Since then, the Black Lives Matter movement has held rallies and protests, and prefers to engage in direct action tactics, making people uncomfortable enough that the issue must be addressed.

Behind it all, the BLM philosophy is to advocate for dignity, justice, and respect for all black lives through an end to violence, not escalation.

Statistics show that black americans are disproportionately targeted in cases of police brutality and violence at the hands of the criminal justice system. And this is why the Black Lives Matter movement is necessary, and why saying All Lives Matter is so upsetting.

The very concept of All Lives Matter exists out of yet another false dichotomy. One that supposes that to support Black Lives Matter is to be anti-white or anti-cop. But that simply isn’t true. Because there is no invisible “only”. No one is arguing that Black Lives are the only lives that matter. Of course all lives matter. Of course they do. Everyone knows that, and to suggest otherwise is just stupid and practically slander. What we are saying is that black lives are the ones that are being taken right now; black civil rights are the ones being infringed right now, and we need to call that to attention, so as to fix this horrifying situation for the betterment of our society as a whole.

Still having a hard time getting it? Alright. Let me put it another way. To paraphrase Reddit user GeekAesthete, “Imagine that you’re sitting down to dinner with your family, and while everyone else gets a serving of the meal, you don’t get any. So you say ‘I should get my fair share.’ And as a direct response, your dad corrects you, saying, ‘everyone should get their fair share.’ … However, dad’s smart-ass comment just dismissed you and didn’t solve … that you still haven’t gotten any!” (Please click the link above to read the full comment. It’s a great point.)

“All Lives Matter” is a broom meant to sweep the unpleasantness of systemic racism under the rug so that others can ignore the problem. Because to say “All Lives Matter” is to insinuate that all lives are equally at risk. And of course they are not. I want you to do a little critical thinking experiment, dear reader. Just bear with me. Close your eyes, and think about how many white americans you can recall being shot without cause by police officers in the last two years. Can you think of just one? By name? Because I cannot. And if you can, did the media treat the victim as at-fault?

The reason I ask you to do this is because in the past two years – since the riots in Ferguson, Missouri – over 15% of all fatalities at the hands of police were black men. That’s 5 times higher than the the numbers of white men of the same age, and african americans only make up 2% of the population. These deaths include many names that I remember: Tamir Rice, Eric Courtney Harris, Walter Scott, Jonathan Ferrell, Sandra Bland, Samuel DuBose, Freddie Gray, Philando Castille, and Alton Sterling. Please, pause here for a moment and say their names out loud to yourself, if you haven’t before. Really soak in how many names you’re speaking out loud to yourself. Is the sheer number of names not upsetting?

If you didn’t understand before, do you understand now, dear reader? Of course all lives matter. But right now, we need to focus on the the black lives that are being taken away. Because that what societies do: they improve all things for all members.

But is that all to the argument? Is there more to the movement? Of course there is, dear reader. But honestly, this is all I feel safe saying about the movement, as I am a white transgender woman, and can not even begin to truly understand the struggles faced by the black community. And my experience as a minority allows me to empathize with the black community but, as I am not black, I can never understand their unique struggles. And I would never claim to.

But that doesn’t mean I can’t do everything I can to show support. And regardless of race, we should all show support. Because we are all members of the same community, and if it has failed one of us, it has failed us all. After all, if all lives really do matter, are not Black Lives part of the “all”?

Let’s Talk: Pride

Oh man, oh gosh, oh boy. This is a contentious debate and yet again, I find myself having feelings that are so complicated for an issue that is so simple. Let’s begin.

The internet is up in arms today over #HeterosexualPrideDay with fighters on both sides. Many are saying that we should be “all inclusive” and “of course straight people should have pride”. But many others, myself included, find this downright…uncomfortable. Some find it straight up offensive, but at the very least, I think it might be inappropriate. If this opinion bothers you, I apologize. But if you’re willing to hear me out on this one, read on, dear reader, read on.

The problem of Straight Pride vs. Gay Pride is a complicatedly cut-and-dry issue. Sound frustrating? It definitely is. But in order to understand why straight pride is unnecessary -and for many people- upsetting, we need to understand why LGBT Pride is a thing in the first place. And that takes us back to the Stonewall Inn, 1969.

In the wee morning hours of 1:20 AM, June 28th, 1969, four policemen in suits, two officers in uniform, a detective, and a deputy inspector entered the Stonewall Inn of Greenwich Village, Manhattan and shouted, “Police! We’re taking the place!”

This was not an unusual scene for the liberal neighborhood of Greenwich Village, or even the Stonewall itself. Raids on gay bars were very common, usually happening about once a month. However, what occurred this night was not as common, as many of us now know.

The standard procedure in the area was was to bribe the police, and then receive warning of a raid hours and sometimes days beforehand. However, the Stonewall was not expecting this raid, as A) they had been raided the Tuesday prior, and B) raids typically happened earlier in the evening between 9 – 11 PM. As such, when police entered, they  were confronted by approximately 250 patrons, mostly gay men, who were caught off guard and confused.

As police entered the establishment, the Public Morals Squad – who had been on standby outside – received the signal to move in and join the officers inside. Very quickly, standard procedure took over and the male patrons were told to line up in orderly lines and present valid identification, while those presenting female were taken into the restroom by a female officer to inspect their genitals. Anyone who was described as a “man in women’s clothes” was arrested and detained outside to await a patrol wagon. Alcohol that was unlabeled and unstamped was seized as assumed bootlegged.

Outside, as patrons were being released and escorted out of the building, a crowd was gathering. While the crowd mostly consisted of those being released, neighbors and passersby were gathering as well. Within minutes the crowd had grown to within 100 to 150 people.

Inside, the situation began to deteriorate. Transgender women being arrested were refusing to go with police and those in line were refusing to present identification. A sense of discomfort and fear spread very quickly as police grew increasingly hostile, including some officers who proceeded to grope and violate the lesbian patrons as they were frisked.

After waiting about fifteen minutes, the patrol wagons began appearing to take the confiscated alcohol and arrested, employees and patrons alike. As police began escorting those arrested from the building to the wagons, the crowd began to turn restless. Police lines had formed to keep the crowd in line, but the crowd was pushing back. As officers led a lesbian woman, described as a “typical New York butch”, to the patrol wagons, she began to plead with the crowd. She had been beaten over the head with a night stick for “complaining that the handcuffs were too tight” and was being violently shoved toward the wagon. “Why don’t you guys do something!?”

And do something they did. As police began to restrain the crowd, the crowd began jeering and pushing back. Within the crowd someone shouted, “It’s because they weren’t paid off!” To which a response was shouted back, “Let’s pay them off then!” And the crowd began throwing coins at the officers. Coins turned to beer bottles. Beer bottles turned to bricks from a nearby construction site. And the violence raged until near 4:00 AM.

And yet, this wasn’t a coordinated or organized effort. It was a spontaneous rebellion; an uprising. The LGBT community had finally had enough. After years of being labeled un-American and perverts. After years of being documented and spied on by the FBI and even the USPS. Finally, it had all come to a head this one night, in this one place.

In the aftermath of Stonewall, the Gay Liberation Movement was born. LGBT groups had exploded from a few hundred across the country to more than twenty-five hundred by 1971. On June 28th, 1970, the first pride parades were held in New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago to commemorate the Stonewall Riots. By June 28th, 1972, Boston, Dallas, Milwaukee, London, Paris, West Berlin, Stockholm, Atlanta, Buffalo, Detroit, Washington D.C., Miami, Minneapolis, and Philadelphia, as well as San Francisco had joined in the annual commemoration event. The LGBT movement was mobilizing.

Since then, the LGBT Civil Rights Movement has made great strides. Most recently, in 2016, President Barack Obama named June as national LGBT Pride Month and commemorated a memorial at the site of the Stonewall riots.

This is why LGBT Pride is important, and the notion that straight people deserve a pride parade as well is…troubling. Because, that very much means that they have missed the point entirely. See, Pride is not a festival. It’s not Mardi Gras for queers. Pride is an event to memorialize those we have lost for the cause. To remind us that the fight is not over. To reflect on where we came from and how far we’ve come. To look ahead at how far we have yet to go and to mobilize towards that goal.

This past week, I was blessed with the opportunity of witnessing Pride weekend in Seattle. And while it was beautiful and freeing to see so many people celebrate love, integrity, individuality, and self-expression, it was also sad to see how many “tourists” turned out to ogle those in facepaint and rainbow suspenders. Or those who turned out for the purpose of buying merchandise and street food. Too many people showed up with the expectation that pride was just a spectacle, a festival, devoid of deep meaning and simply a summertime celebration.

And that is false. You’d like a straight pride? Why? Sell me on the idea. Convince me that you need one. Because that’s what we had to do. We had to fight and bleed for ours. We had to cry and, indeed, die for ours. We have suffered police brutality, and murder. We have suffered homelessness and mass shootings. We have to hear praise for our suffering and legislation that dehumanizes us.

When heterosexuals are afraid to walk the streets holding hands with their loved ones, or when straight people have to live in fear of being beaten or killed for being themselves, then you can – and should – have a pride celebration. But as it stands, you are not being shamed or denied basic rights on a daily basis. You are not oppressed. You already have a pride. You have every day to be accepted and proud.

And I am not saying that straight people shouldn’t be proud. Everyone should be proud of who they are. It’s important. But Straight Pride as an event doesn’t need to exist. Gay Pride exists to remember our struggles and celebrate our victories, because of and over those that oppress us respectively. A Straight Pride event just serves to diminish that fact and once again push us back into the shadows. And I for one am unwilling to give up the light of day.

“Gay Pride was not formed out of a need to celebrate being gay but instead our right to exist without prosecution… So instead of wondering why there isn’t a straight pride month or movement, straight people should just be thankful they don’t need one.” -LZ Ganderson

Let’s Talk: Religious Freedom

“Religious Freedom.” It’s a buzz phrase. We hear it a lot in political arguments about all kinds of things: the death penalty, abortion, LGBT rights, etc. But when we use religious freedom as a defense, we need to make sure we’re using it correctly. And in order to do that, we need to really understand what ‘religious freedom’ actually is.

So where does religious freedom come from? Well, when America was being formed, there were a lot of pretty radical ideas going around. One of which was the freedom to practice whatever religion one might choose without persecution. Today, this doesn’t seem so radical. And it shouldn’t! It is important to have faith! And it is more important to be free to practice one’s faith unimpeded. But there is a large difference when it comes to being free to practice your faith without persecution, versus using your faith as a crutch to persecute others.

Let me explain what I mean, and I’m going to use an analogy that hits pretty close to home for me: civil rights for LGBT Americans. Let’s say a young trans girl wants to use the girls’ restroom at her school. She’s in 6th grade, struggling to accept herself (as we all do at that age), and all she wants is to be able to pee in peace like the other girls. But instead, the school tells her that she has to use a different restroom because a group of parents sent a letter to the school complaining about a ‘violation of their religious freedom’. What exactly do the parents mean by this? Violating their religious freedom? But this little girl isn’t doing anything to bother you at all! “Nonsense!” they say. “The school is forcing our young Christian daughters to be in the presence of sin and a sinner! This violates our religious freedom!”

But I have to ask these parents, “What freedom do you think is being encroached here?” Because no one is forcing these parents, or their children for that matter, to accept this young trans girl. You are still free to think she’s a sinner. What you are not free to do, however, is deny her the right to be treated like a basic human being. Because religious freedom is the right to practice your faith without persecution. It is not the right to persecute others based on your faith.

Because – and this is the important nugget here – your beliefs do not matter outside of you. And I know that this might sound very insensitive. Dismissive, even. But believe me when I say that couldn’t be further from the truth. I respect all people’s beliefs. Even the ones I don’t agree with. Especially the ones I don’t agree with. To me, religion, faith, they’re both very personal things. And finding them is a journey that everyone must go through. Some people find them in religion, others find them in science and logic (like myself). Some people find them in both, or neither. But everyone has a faith system in some capacity. And they are all valid. They all help us as people.

And I understand that when you find something that works for you, you get excited and you want other people to feel the way you do, so you share your beliefs. But in the end, it’s all personal. And just as you have the right to practice your faith, I have the right to not practice it. Or the right to practice something else.

Is this a personal attack on you? Of course not. But if you want the world to be tolerant of you and the things you hold dear, you have to be willing to shell out some tolerance in turn. You don’t have to agree with those opposing beliefs. Hell, I personally don’t think you even need to entertain the notion. But you have to let them be free to practice what they believe too. Because religious freedom is a two-way street.

“Whoah there, Dany. You’re getting off track.” You’re right, dear reader. I apologize. It’s just that I get so very worked up over the issue of freedom of religion! But you’re right, let’s get back to it.

So, what about that little trans girl who just wants to pee? What should we do for her?

Well, I’d like to perform a little experiment. And this could get pretty…upsetting, but I need you to bear with me, dear reader. Let’s reread the story above, except replace “trans girl” with “black girl” and all the mentions of her being a “sinner” to her being “inferior”. Go on, I’ll wait.

Wow. Pretty offensive, no? Sounds like a scene out of an eye-opening docudrama set in the 1960s, right? Well, bingo.

The same tactics being employed against LBGT americans are the ones that were used against african-americans during the Civil Rights movement. And now, looking back, it seems absurd that white people wanted to be segregated because they thought they were somehow superior. Religious freedom was a pretty common defense in the Civil Right movement, in fact!

But nowadays, if someone tried to stop an african-american from using the bathroom because it “violated their religious freedom”, we’d tell them to “cut the shit” and label them a racist. Because that seems absurd to us. Just because someone looks different doesn’t mean they should have to be heckled when they want to pee. Black people deserve rights! Black lives matter!

And of course they do! But so do queer lives. And all lives. Everyone matters!

Because, in the end, we can’t claim “freedom and rights for all” and then deny those things to specific groups. If you have religious freedom to think I’m a sinner, then I have religious freedom to think you’re wrong. But I can’t force you to believe otherwise, and you can’t force me to pee somewhere else.

*Man, this took me so long to write. I spent like 3 weeks trying to get this one written, ’cause I kept getting so worked up and didn’t know what direction to take or how to reach the destination I wanted. I apologize if this one is a bit shorter than usual.

Let’s Talk: Dysphoria

So, before I begin, I need to make a confession: This is going to be a very emotionally charged post. I wanted to post this days ago, but I’ve been so depressed and feeling awful that I’ve been having trouble getting these words on the page through the tears. But I digress…

Today, I want to talk about gender dysphoria. What it is, and why it’s a serious problem. Now, I need to preface this by saying that dysphoria is an incredibly painful and personal experience. It differs from person to person, in varying degrees of severity. The experiences listed herein are mine and mine alone. It is also important to note that not every trans person experiences dysphoria, nor is the feeling of dysphoria required for being trans.

So let’s start with what dysphoria is. Gender dysphoria is the feeling of discomfort or distress caused by one’s gender identity being misaligned with one’s biological sex. In layman’s terms, “I’m a girl and should have a vagina, but I have a penis and it really upsets me.” Gender dysphoria is NOT a mental illness or disorder. It has been medically recognized as a real condition and the definition has been changed in the Diagnostic Standards Manual (version V). Gender dysphoria should never be confused with Body Dysmorphia, which “is an anxiety disorder that causes sufferers to spend a lot of time worrying about their appearance and to have a distorted view of how they look.”

Gender dysphoria can have many different triggers, and those triggers can change over time. Certain things can be more triggering than others. Allow me to explain my point by using myself.

I am a trans woman. I was assigned male at birth, meaning I was born with a penis. Before recently, I never had much issue with my penis. It was there, but it wasn’t bothersome. But recently, I’ve started disliking it more and more, and I’d like to see it go, I think. But the dysphoria triggered by my genital situation is nothing compared to some of my other triggers. For instance, my breasts (or lack thereof). When I look at myself in the mirror, I expect to see breasts. Well proportioned and shapely I would hope. Due to my height and weight, something close to a C or D cup would be a proper size. But as of this blog post, they are currently only an A cup. Barely noticeable. It causes an extreme amount of distress.

Another couple of triggers for me are facial hair shadow and my voice. Seeing beard shadow makes me incredibly uncomfortable. And putting on makeup is a torturous ordeal, because I have to stare at my face for upwards of 30-45 minutes every day as I try to conceal what it is I’m forced to stare at. And listening to my voice causes extreme distress as well. So much so, that I frequently don’t speak if I don’t have to, or I’ll just whisper. I can’t bear to sing in front of people (and rather hate it when I’m alone as well). Which is awful, because I love singing, but I can’t bear to hear myself do it.

Even the act of feeling dysphoria can be it’s own trigger, as odd as that sounds. Because all I want in life is to be a normal girl. But normal girls don’t have dysphoria attacks.

And there are many more triggers for myself as well. My shoulders are too broad, my face too angular, my hair isn’t long enough, my arms are too muscley, my feet are too big, I’m not skinny enough. All these things are things I think every time I pass a mirror. Some days, I’m able to ignore these thoughts. Some days, however…. Some days I can’t stop crying. I admit, yesterday and today have been two of those days.

“But these are all things that can be fixed, right?” I’m touched by your concern, dear readers, and yes. I suppose they are. Most of those things will be taken care of over time alone, due to my hormone therapy. My hair will get longer, my feet have actually started shrinking. My muscle mass will atrophy and shrink, resulting in smaller arms and shoulders. But some things take more than just time. Beard shadow requires laser hair removal at best (a $3000-$5000 process over 18 months), and electrolysis ($10,000-$20,000 process over years) at worst. My breasts may require breast augmentation, which can be an expensive and scary process as well. And in the meantime, I am suffering.

Most times, dysphoria is accompanied with depression, which is a real and serious condition. For some people, that depression can become so unbearable, suicide becomes an enticing “solution”.

And while these may be my particular triggers and experiences, many trans people across the world suffer from the same distress. And the ramifications of this distress can be severe. Trans people from the ages of 18-44 have a 45% suicide rate. And the number increases to between 50 and 60 percent for the ages of 14-18 depending on the study. Let that sink in for one moment. Approximately half of all transgender children and young adults are killing themselves.

And yet many people in today’s society treat us like outcasts or jokes. Or worse, perverts and freaks. And it can hurt. It can undo years of therapy and self-management.

I’d like to share a story with you, to illustrate this point. This past Saturday night, two co-workers and a friend came into where I work, very drunk and proceeded to be loud and boisterous. At 3AM, I asked them to leave, as we were closing. One of them (the friend, not a coworker) made a joke about my genitals (my penis). 3 times. Now, my genitals are already a source of discomfort, and being out in public as a female already causes a certain amount of anxiety. But this was a blatant act of misgendering and harassment. In that one moment, my self-confidence was torn asunder. My already fragile self-esteem, shattered. I felt violated and unvalidated. This one person has nearly undone 2 years of therapy and self-management that I have worked so very hard to accomplish.

“That’s awful!” Yes, dear reader, it is. I’m glad you agree. But there are ways to manage gender dysphoria. The first and foremost thing that can be done is to accept it. If you experience dysphoria, it’s important to know that there is nothing wrong with you! And if someone with dysphoria comes to you, it is important to validate them and recognize their struggle. Use a new name or pronouns if they ask you to.

Second, there are ways to manage your discomfort. Find out what your triggers are and experiment with ways to keep them under control. Breastforms and wigs are helpful tools. I use both every single day to help manage my dysphoria while I transition. New names and pronouns can offer a lot of relief as well.

Third, when it becomes unbearable, it’s okay to cry. Cry a lot. Let it out. Do something that makes you happy. Read a book, listen to music. Have a glass of wine (though, don’t over do it.) For me, I cry a lot and drown my sorrows in coffee and wine, like a true Seattleite.

Fourth, if you begin feeling suicidal, take a moment to breathe and call Trans Lifeline. They are a suicide hotline for trans people, by trans people. There are real trans folks on the other end to help, so they understand what you’re feeling. Don’t hesitate; just call. And for any cisgender allies, donate to Trans Lifeline on their website to keep it active. If a friend comes to you with suicidal feelings, point them that way and make sure they know they are loved. Do whatever, just to stay alive.

And last, but not least, remember that it does get better. It definitely won’t feel like it at the time, but it will. Because there is a truth, and it’s on our side: Dawn is coming. You just need to open your eyes and look into the sun, at the new day’s rise.

“Stay Alive” – José González

Let’s Talk: Bathrooms

Okay. So, I have a few topics that I really want to talk about. I have some strong feelings that I want to voice, in the hopes that maybe someone might understand. These topics aren’t really related, so over the next two or three days (or just today if I get really fired up), I’m going to post about various topics in my “Let’s Talk” series. Today’s topic is bathrooms.

So, there’s been a lot of talk in the news about trans* people, bathrooms, legislation, rape, and trans panic. And I’ve been seeing a lot of misinformation running around, incomplete information, and suggested solutions that aren’t really solutions at all, and I wanna voice some opinions and concerns on this.

So I suppose the logical place to start is some definitions to make sure we’re all on the same page. Let’s start with transgender people and trans panic.

A transgender person (not ‘a transgender’, ‘transgendered’, or ‘tranny’) is someone who’s gender identity does not match the gender assigned to them by birth due to the assumptions made by society by the genitals of infants. I’ll clarify. When a child is born, they are given one of two designations (and very rarely, a third). If you have a penis, you’re a boy (male). If you have a vagina, you’re a girl (female). If you have an uncommon lack or combination of both you are intersex, and most medical professionals will make a decision for you, followed by and operation on your genitals to “normalize” you, and the hope that you don’t grow up to feel different.

As a transgender woman, I was assigned male at birth (a penis-bearer), but I identify, feel, and live as a female. Who or what determines my gender identity? I do. Not the ‘secret bits’ between my legs, but the unseen bits between my ears. My feelings and thoughts determine it. Is it a choice? It sure isn’t. I’ve felt this way as long as I can remember, even when I didn’t have the words to describe it. There is no way I can truly make you understand. It’s something you have to experience to fully grasp.

And that’s where the problem lies. Unless you’re trans, you can’t understand how we feel or why. And that unknown is scary to many people. This is the root of trans panic. For many people, the very concept of a “man who wants to be a woman” is a disgusting and confusing thought. But therein lies the disconnect. I am not a man who wants to be a woman. I am a woman who just wants to be myself. End of story. I understand that’s a confusing thought. But you need to trust that what I’m saying and feeling is legitimate, and not a made up choice.

Fair enough, but we need to get to the point. I can feel many of you, dear readers, asking, “Okay, but what about bathrooms?” Good idea. What about bathrooms?

So, what’s the controversy? Cause the situation feels very muddled. Most of the arguments are about transwomen in the ladies’ room. (Note that no one seems too troubled about have a transman in the men’s room. It’s mostly about protecting the women.) People seems to be very worried that having a transwoman in the ladies’ room presents a real and present danger to women and children. Why? I’ve heard a few arguments about seeing a penis in the women’s’ room, but those are few and far between. No, in fact, most arguments follow a different rhetoric. “Without a law, any paedophile or rapist could throw on a skirt, walk in to the womens’ room and just rape people without recourse!”

First, no. Second, also no. And third, have you heard yourself? This logic makes literally no sense.

First off, without these laws, any paedophile or rapist could walk in to a women’s’ room and rape people anyway! But you know what? Rape and molestation is still illegal, bathroom bill or not. And the fact that this is the argument means you’re not actually worried about transwomen at all. You’re worried about cisgendered, perverted men having a new excuse to rape. And that’s an understandable fear. I get that. As a transwoman (and fellow woman) I am pretty darn worried about rape myself. Believe it. But we need to understand where this fear comes from: rape culture!

If rape is the real fear here, then we need to start a dialogue about rape! Go figure! We need to start talking about why rape is such a pervasive fear that we feel willing – nay, entitled to restrict the basic human rights of an already underprivileged and victimized demographic to feel slightly safer. Because we’re not afraid of transwomen raping anyone. Fun fact: there have been precisely ZERO documented cases of transwomen assaulting, raping, or molesting anyone in the ladies’ room. But there have been many cases of men raping women or children in either bathroom. (Many which happen to be conservative Republicans. Funny, that.) In fact, I went through the effort of doing some research on statistics. 1 in 5 girls and 1 in 20 boys are the victims of sexual abuse, and out of those, 3 in 4 were assaulted by someone they knew! Not a random stranger in the restroom. Certainly not a transwoman, but a family friend or family member.

And, I’d also like to take a moment to point out that transgender people have been around for a long, long time. Pretty much since humanity has existed in all of its wonderful diversity, transgender has been one of those flavors. Transgender people have been Roman Emperors, holy mystics, and common people. We are everywhere. So what bathrooms do you think we’ve been using until the last three or so years? And even still, we haven’t raped anyone. Kinda makes you think…

Secondly, if you’re worried about some sort of indecent exposure, that’s not really going to happen. First of all, I’ve been in a few ladies’ rooms (you know, cause I’m a lady) and so far, they have all been equipped with private stalls with doors that lock and all that. Contrary to what might be public opinion, we transwomen sit to pee. So we use those stalls. We close and lock those doors. We quietly do what we came in to do, and then we wash our hands and leave, because inside, most of us are panicking about it. (Well, I am at least.) Believe me. No one is going to expose themselves to you. Hell, we hate exposing ourselves to, well, ourselves. We don’t want to see that, and we certainly don’t want anyone else to see that. (Of course, this is how I feel. Not every transwoman is ashamed or uncomfortable with their body, but regardless, we all know common decency, and no one is going to expose themselves.)

“Okay, but everyone deserves to feel comfortable. What about adding a third bathroom option, like unisex or single use bathrooms?” Admit it. A few of you were asking, weren’t you dear readers? Well, let’s talk about this “solution” real fast.

The first thing you need to understand about transgender people is that most of us – not all of us – but most of us, suffer from something known as gender dysphoria. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail on this here, because it’s going to get its own Let’s Talk post, but in short, dysphoria is a feeling of discomfort that stems from the incongruence or disconnect between one’s biological sex and self-assigned gender identity. Basically, “I feel like I should have boobs, but I don’t have boobs and it makes me sad.” It can be mild, or it can be horrifically severe. It can happen at any time, no matter what. For instance, I’m currently suffering a severe attack of dysphoria as I write this.

But one of the things about dysphoria is that no one enjoys it. In fact, most people actively try to find a way to avoid dysphoria. Because all we want is to be “normal”. I just want to be a “normal” woman, and normal women don’t have attacks of gender dysphoria. Anything that reminds me I’m different makes me feel worse, and if it’s something publicly visible, whether realized or not, the feeling is worsened exponentially. Being forced to use your own separate bathroom is, in essence, a publicly visible walk of shame, reminding us that we are different from other women. It seems like a nice compromise from the eyes of a cisgender person, but to a transgender person, that is unacceptable. We deserve all the same basic rights and protections that are extended to our cisgender counterparts.

Now, there are a lot of other arguments I could bring up. Transwomen in the men’s room is more dangerous to transwomen than transwomen in the ladies’ room, etc. But I don’t need to harp all the same arguments being made. I’ve already retreaded some information in this post. But what I hope to accomplish with this is helping people understand where their fears really lie, and shifting the conversation to one that will actually help all people, instead of further marginalizing one group.

As always, thank you for reading, and if you liked this read, please let me know in the comments. Also, if there’s anything you’re confused about or feel that I left out, please leave a comment. Or contact me using the form on my contact page.

Federal Court of the 4th Circuit rules on Title IX

So, this is couple days late because I spent most of the day researching for this post. I wanted this to be a factual article, as well as an opinion piece. But today’s Trans* Tuesday post is about a historic Federal Court ruling on the definitions outlined within Title IX on the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and how it impacts existing legislature within the 4th Circuit, including HB2. Let’s dive right in.

Today (Tues. April 19th, 2016), the Federal Court of the 4th District of the United States ruled in favor of a 16 year-old transgender boy suing his school board’s decision to bar him from using the men’s restroom. There’s a lot to talk about here, but first, we need to start with what Title IX is.

Title IX of the United States Civil Rights Act of 1964 states

“[n]o person . . . shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance,”

and continues to detail some of these benefits, including:

  1. Provision of locker rooms, practice and competitive facilities;
  2. Provision of medical and training facilities and services;
  3. Provision of housing and dining facilities and services;

Title IX also continues, saying

“separate toilet, locker room, and shower facilities on the basis of sex, but such facilities provided for students of one sex shall be comparable to such facilities provided for students of the other sex.”

This is further bolstered by a Federal Department of Education opinion letter dated January 7, 2015, the Department’s Office for Civil Rights wrote: “When a school elects to separate or treat students differently on the basis of sex . . . a school generally must treat transgender students consistent with their gender identity.”5 J.A. 55.

Boom. Great news, right? Case dismissed.

Well, no. The school board for Gloucester County Public Schools (GCPS) suggests that “a restroom may not be educational in nature and thus is not an educational program covered by Title IX.” Excuse me, but what?

That argument is shaky at best. Just because classes aren’t held in bathrooms, it’s not covered under Title IX? Thankfully, the federal court has a different interpretation.

Except as provided in this subpart, in providing any aid, benefit, or service to a student, a recipient shall not, on the basis of sex:

(1) Treat one person differently from another in determining whether such person satisfies any requirement or condition for the provision of such aid, benefit, or service;

(2) Provide different aid, benefits, or services or provide aid, benefits, or services in a different manner;

(3) Deny any person any such aid, benefit, or service; . . .

(7) Otherwise limit any person in the enjoyment of any right, privilege, advantage, or opportunity.

34 C.F.R. § 106.31(b). We have little difficulty concluding that access to a restroom at a school, under this regulation, can be considered either an “aid, benefit, or service” or a “right, privilege, advantage, or opportunity,” which, when offered by a recipient institution, falls within the meaning of “educational program” as used in Title IX and defined by the Department’s implementing regulations.

This is a historic ruling. This ruling paves the way for a SCOTUS ruling protecting against trans* discrimination under Title IX, and potentially the greater Civil Rights Act in general. But more importantly: The 4th Circuit includes North Carolina. A state that has been infamously plastered across millions of televisions and periodicals as of late, due to an insidious bill passed in their state: House Bill 2.

HB2 is being called an anti-LGBTQ bill for many reasons, but chief among them is the law changing the definition of sex in the state’s anti-discrimination laws to biological-sex, and the provisions it makes for barring any protections from anti-discrimination legislature to gays and lesbians. In short, this bill makes it illegal for transgender people to use the restroom of the gender they identify with, and it allows businesses and individuals free reign to deny the LGBTQ community services and benefits.

This is hugely controversial. And rightly so; this bill is pure hate wrapped in a ‘legalese’ tortilla, like some evil burrito. As such, the outcry has been deafening. Protests have been almost non-stop. Corporate activism is on the rise with such companies as Red Hat, Dow Chemical, Biogen, Wells Fargo, American Airlines, Lowe’s, PayPal, Marriott International, Apple, Google, Facebook, Twitter, IBM, Yelp, and Salesforce. On March 29, 2016, an open letter signed by 80 corporate CEOs against House Bill 2 was sent to Governor McCrory.

And the commercial fallout doesn’t stop there. Multiple film production companies, such as 21st Century Fox and Lionsgate have refused to produce in the state for good. The NBA and other sports agencies are considering canceling sports events. Bruce Springsteen canceled a concert just over a week ago.

Even the Federal Government isn’t happy with this bill. The Obama administration is currently debating whether this bill makes the state ineligible for any kind of federal funded assistance.

State and local governments across the country have spoken out against the bill, banning travel to North Carolina, including Connecticut, Minnesota, New York, Vermont, and Washington; the District of Columbia; the counties of Cuyahoga, Ohio, Multnomah, Oregon, and Summit, Ohio; and the cities of Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Cincinnati, Dayton, Honolulu, Los Angeles, Miami Beach, New York City, Oakland, California, Philadelphia, Portland, Oregon, Providence, Royal Oak, Michigan, Salt Lake City, San Francisco, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Seattle, Tampa, West Palm Beach, Florida, and Wilton Manors, Florida.

Even the North Carolina cities of Carrboro, Greensboro, Durham, Chapel Hill, Asheville and Raleigh are in open opposition to the bill.

But now, opponents to HB2 have a real chance at overturning it, thanks to the 4th Circuit decision. But don’t be mistaken. This is not the end of the fight. It’s simply a federal court ruling on the meaning of Title IX, which applies to education. However, federal cases and lead to supreme court cases, as with the fight for marriage equality, culminating in the SCOTUS ruling last summer.

And something else to keep in mind, the 4th Circuit didn’t completely overturn the district court’s decision in the Gloucester County Public Schools case. Instead, it remanded it back to the District Court, stating that the original ruling was without basis and unconstitutional. Which is still a big deal! But there is a long way to go.

This fight is not over, but rather, it is just beginning. Let’s go get ’em.

For anyone interested, you can read the full 69 page ruling of the 4th Circuit case here.

On The Importance of Advisement: Addendum

Every so often, one of my posts can trigger a long and in depth discussion. I love when this happens. Most recently, my post titled “On The Importance of Advisement” was reposted to Reddit, and a fascinating conversation unfolded in the comments. You can read the comment thread here.

Occasionally when this happens, however, I get to experience the joy of seeing something through another’s eyes and changing opinions. And that has happened here. So with that in mind (and my affinity for alliteration), I feel like this would make a great Follow-up Friday post. But I warn you now, dear reader. This might be a long one.

So, in my original post I spoke about the problematic issues of the episode, specifically the scene where the Powerpuff Girls meet Donny. What is important to note is that I was viewing this episode through a lense of fear. Fear of how the episode might be perceived by a cisgendered person who has not had much interaction with the trans community. My original opinion was that, viewed by the hypothetical individual above, Buttercup’s behavior might be seen as acceptable, since it was never addressed as inappropriate.

However. I failed to view this episode through the eyes of a young trans person growing up, and the message of affirmation and empowerment hidden in plain sight. Through discussion with several individuals on Reddit, I was able to attain a new view and appreciation of this episode. So, let’s dive right in.

As mentioned before, the episode begins with Bubbles meeting Donny. Blossom and Buttercup show up to collect Bubbles for the bus and meet Donny as well. Buttercup’s behavior here is still troubling. However, I would like to point out that it is an accurate representation of the kind of invalidation and transphobic behavior many of us encounter on a daily basis, and as uncomfortable as it is, I do believe it is important to show the challenges that the trans community faces as a whole.

Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 4.31.04 PMAfter this scene, Bubbles takes Donny to the Professor to have him turned into a “real” unicorn by way of a procedure of sorts (the transmogrifier ray). Before agreeing to use the ray, Professor Utonium asks Donny if this is what he really wants to do. Donny gives an emphatic yes, proclaiming, “This is going to be the best day of my life!” The Professor then agrees, but not before giving Donny a large stack of documents detailing all the possible side-effects and outcomes. Donny signs the document, without even reading it and jumps into the chair.

The Professor charges up the transmogrifier ray and fires, leaving Donny with….rabbit ears? Hmm…that doesn’t seem quite right. But the Professor did say there could be risks and side-effects, if only Donny had read the entire document.

Donny’s changes continue to progress, growing more and more monstrous. Large muscles,Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 4.56.00 PM sharp teeth, warts and all. Donny becomes very upset and storms out of the labratory. “I hate science!” As Donny starts running through Townsville causing terror and mayhem, he begins to grow more and more distraught, and clearly self-hating. By the time Bubbles catches up to him, Donny has taken the Mayor hostage on a rooftop and calls himself a freak. Bubbles tries to calm him by saying he’s not a freak and that, “In your heart you know you’re a real life unicorn!” Donny rebuts this by angrily saying, “No! In my heart, I know I’m a monster!” Donny then hits Bubbles, sending her flying into a wall, knocking her unconscious for a minute.

At this moment, Donny begins to snap out of it. “Oh no! What have I done!?” He begins to back away, horrified of his actions, before slipping and falling off the top of the building.

Phew. Let’s pause here and break this down, cause a lot just happened here, and there’s a lot to understand.

First of all, let’s go back to the procedure. This is an important scene that I really didn’t have much issue with originally, because through the lense of fear that I mentioned earlier, there wasn’t much that was problematic. However, looking at this scene now through the eyes of a young trans person, there is a lot to learn here and a very important message: “Don’t rush into things. Take your time, and understand what you’re doing.” Like Professor Utonium says in the show, “This is your body, and it’s a serious choice.” Because transition is a SERIOUS choice. And for many of us, it’s a choice made out of necessity, which is why it’s so important to understand what it is we’re getting into.

After the procedure goes wrong, Donny gets very upset and rushes out of the labratory. As Reddit user Boltizar commented, “Now what I see this as is Donny not looking into transitioning and taking any means necessary. Something goes wrong and he has deep regrets due to his rushed approach and taking the wrong path. It’s like a detransitioner going TERF.” Which is another important lesson to take away here. Sometimes, there are people who regret transitioning and choose to detransition. This can happen by realizing that transitioning makes you more uncomfortable and choosing not to. Sometimes, it’s because you were unprepared for the results. For Donny, I think of it as the latter.

After terrorizing Townsville and taking the Mayor hostage, Donny calls himself a monster and hurts his friend in the process. This is yet another important lesson here about gender dysphoria. Dysphoria is awful. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, and sometimes when you’re so down and depressed about yourself like that, you do stupid things. Mean and hurtful things. The lesson here is that, even though dysphoria is a powerful and horrible feeling, it’s important to remember that you are not a monster. Because when it begins to subside and you finally calm down, you may realize you’ve done something awful or hurt your friends in some way. (If you’d like to learn more about dysphoria, please listen to this episode of my podcast.)

After all this, Donny is saved in a brilliant ray of light by a group of unicorns! Donny, Screen Shot 2016-04-14 at 4.33.02 PMhaving been returned to normal by the power of unicorn magic apologizes to Bubbles for how he acted, and Bubbles apologizes for pushing him to get the procedure done. This is an important moment in the episode, because it has a lesson for both trans youth, and allies. For trans youth, this speaks volumes about the importance of group support and finding a group of peers. For Donny, he needed to find a group of other unicorns to help him get where he needed to be. For transgender people, it’s important to find those who have transitioned before you, as well as do your own research.

For allies, the message is different, but no less important. As an ally, you have a unique ability to truly help a queer friend, be they trans, gay, what-have-you. But, it is very important to note that your support should never be driven or overshadowed by your ego. It’s important to support transgender friends if they feel they need procedures and surgeries to find happiness. But it’s just as important to help them feel comfortable in their own bodies and feel recognized as they identify, regardless of what they look like.

All in all, I’d have to say that my opinion on this episode has changed. I think this was a powerful episode, and there were a lot of positives to take away here. However, I still feel like this episode was not without a few problematic instances.

The biggest issue that remains is that Buttercup’s behavior was never addressed. It is important to show the adversity that transgender people face, but it is also important to note that it is not acceptable behavior.

However, this episode had a lot of empowering and affirming messages for trans youth, as
well as words of caution. “Don’t jump into transition without fully understanding what it means.” “Don’t try to do it alone. You don’t have to.” “Don’t let your dysphoria get the better of you.” “Your identity is real and valid.” “Defend your identity.” “You don’t need surgeries to be yourself.”

Furthermore, the original goal of this post was to point out the need for advisement on sensitive issues and topics. But there’s another lesson to learn, that I fell victim to myself. It is important to look at the whole picture, and not let ourselves become jaded. This episode had it’s share of problematic moments, but I was too focused on how this episode could be used to justify hate, I missed all the ways it could be used to empower trans youth. Advisement is important. But so is keeping an open mind.

So there we have it. My full and updated thoughts and opinions on this episode of The Powerpuff Girls. I hope that this was a good read and that you stuck with me until the end, dear reader. I know it was a long one. If you’d like, please feel free to leave comments and feedback. I’d love to know your thoughts on the matter as well.

 

On The Importance of Advisement

For today’s “Trans* Tuesday” post, I want to talk a little bit about the importance of advisement. Specifically, the importance of having someone intimately familiar with a marginalized group of people (preferably from inside the group) as an advisor to writers and directors for film and television.

This can, of course, be applied to any piece of media or literature which aims to discuss the issues of any group, be they black, hispanic, asian, the homeless, drug users, etc. But today, I’m going to focus on the importance of transgender advisement as it relates to Cartoon Network.

Please bear with me here. This sounds silly, but I have a point I’m trying to make, I assure you.

In a fairly recent episode of the new Powerpuff Girls series on Cartoon Network entitled “Horn, Sweet Horn”, the Professor tries to make Donny the Pony a unicorn at Bubbles’ request, but Donny is turned into a monster that threatens Townsville.

Now, I want to pause here for a minute. This sounds like a perfectly legitimate concept for a Powerpuff Girls episode. Normally, I would have no problem with it. However, the writers attempt to allude to transgender issues with the story, and they do so in an incredibly problematic way.

powerpuff-girls2_640x345_acf_croppedIn the episode, Bubbles and her class take a field trip to the Townsville zoo, where Bubbles excitedly asks when they’re going to see the unicorns. Everyone laughs and tells her unicorns aren’t real, and so Bubbles wanders off feeling rather dejected when she runs into a young colt names Donny with a horn fashioned from a stick stuck to his head.

At this point, Bubbles’ sisters show up to tell her that the bus is about to leave. After catching sight of Donny, Buttercup asks, “Hey. What’s up with the horse?” Bubbles defends Donny’s identity saying, “He’s not a horse! He’s a unicorn!” And this is where things start to get upsetting. Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 3.24.50 PM

Really upsetting. Buttercup responds with, “I hate to break it to you Bubbles, but that’s
not a unicorn. That’s just…” Buttercup proceeds to knock the makeshift horn off Donny’s head. “…sad.”

So, let’s stop here for a minute and think about this one action. If Donny is our transgender analog, let’s go the full monty and assume he’s a transwoman. And if we’re going to do that, we need to make Donny’s horn an analog for a transwoman. Let’s just say, a wig for simplicity’s sake. Now, if Donny is a transwoman wearing a wig, and Buttercup comes up to her and says, “Sorry to break it to you Bubbles, but your new friend is a man.” And then pulls Donny’s wig off? Would that seem right to you? How do you think Donny (the transwoman) would react?

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 3.30.16 PMKinda like this? I know that’s how I’d react. And Donny reacts in kind. From here, Donny goes on to defend his identity vehemently. “Well excuse me! I may not have a horn, but I do have a heart! And in that heart I know I’m a beautiful unicorn!” Well said, Donny.

And how does Buttercup react to this? “Whoah. Drama bomb.”

I’m going to take a second here to sigh in frustration, if you would like to join me, dear reader. See, as a transwoman, when someone invalidates my identity that I fight so hard for every day, I tend to defend myself passionately. Especially if it happens in a situation as humiliating as the above example. So, drama bomb? Buttercup isn’t even taking responsibility for her wildly inappropriate behavior.

But let’s move on, because this scene isn’t over yet. Bubbles suggests having the Professor turn Donny into a unicorn, so she can have a best friend who is a unicorn. Because, deep down, it doesn’t matter why Donny would want to do that, or even if. All that matters is that Bubbles gets to be friends with a unicorn. Right? Let’s return to our transgender analogy for a second here.

Actually, I’m not going to spell this situation out for you, cause I’m hoping you’re following along pretty well, but just imagine for yourself the “trans version” of Bubbles suggesting surgery for Donny for her own selfish reasons. Pretty offensive.

From here, the episode then moves on to the Professor’s lab, and Donny being shot with a “transmogrifier ray”, etc. There are a few more problematic details in this episode, but this is a long post already, so we’re just going to focus on the scene above, which was the most problematic part of the whole episode.

Screen Shot 2016-04-12 at 3.49.37 PMAnd at this point, I hope you’re thinking, “But based on the episode descriptions alone, they didn’t seem to suggest trans* anything… It doesn’t seem too offensive.” And I’d agree with you. Earlier, I wrote that it seemed like it would have been a normal episode for the Powerpuff Girls in my opinion. However, the writers and director did something very deliberately which paints the entire episode in a very tainted light: They included the transgender flag at the end of the show.

The inclusion of the transgender flag (Light pink, white (or light yellow), light blue) makes the writers’ intentions quite clear. This was supposed to be an episode that tackles transgender issues and themes of acceptance. Donny is supposed to represent a trans person. However, this episode is a wonderful example of what happens with a group of cisgendered writers take it upon themselves to be a voice for the trans community.

Now, I could be wrong. There could be a transgender person working on this show. I have no idea. But it seems to me that if there is, they would have realized how problematic this episode can be. Had the production crew just reached out to any person in the transgender community to advise and consult, this episode could have been a great thing for transgender youth. Instead, I fear it may have made things even harder for kids struggling with their identity.

Long story short (and this post is definitely long), if there is going to be a voice for the trans community in the media, make sure that a trans person is helping write those words. Because more often than not, people assume they can speak for others. And like the old addage, when you assume, you make and ass out of you and me.

Thanks for reading today, and if you got this far and read all of it, I’d love to hear some comments and opinions about the Powerpuff Girls episode, and this blog post.

And if you want an LGBTQ affirming cartoon to watch, check out Steven Universe. It’s very entertaining, has a compelling story, and is a great voice for the LGBTQ community.

EDIT: So, after reading my post above, a friend asked me how I would have written this episode. I’m not sure it could have been handled better, just cause I don’t think PPG is really the best place for this. To me, this type of show requires writing that isn’t really compatible with trans issues. Because the episodes usually focus around a villian and how the Powerpuff Girls stop said villain, etc. And making the trans character a villain is not a good way to handle something like this.

However. A start would have been actually writing a transgirl. Like a human classmate, who’s struggling with a bully at school. It could even be Buttercup, if they want to make her the bad guy. But there has to be an immediate rebuttal to Buttercup’s inappropriate behavior and a character progression for her character. But then again, I don’t write for film and television.